Penny A. Bishop & John M. Downes

Today’s middle school teams use a wide range of technology tools to achieve six important goals: to develop their teacher team; to design effective workflows; to establish a strong team culture; to involve families; to manage technologies; and to continue learning about new technology tools.

Develop Teacher Teams

So much of team dynamics is about talking, deciding, and collaborating. High-performing teams, therefore, must agree on norms and routines for conversation, decision making, documentation, and storage. With increasing pressure to make use of all-too-scarce common planning time, more teams are turning to technology to get the job done.

In face-to-face team meetings, teachers can collaboratively

contribute to a Google Doc (, for instance, creating the agenda, recording minutes, documenting decisions, and developing to-do lists. They can collaborate on shared calendars, spreadsheets, websites, and presentations in the moment, as the ideas and inspirations arise. More important, these activities don’t require faceto- face meetings; the documents are shared and accessible anywhere, any time.

With the chat and comment functions within Google Docs, as well as the video conferencing functions of Google Plus, teams are no longer limited by school hours to complete their important work.

Develop a Workflow Strategy

As teachers and students do more of their work electronically, a thoughtful workflow strategy is a must. Shared folders in Google Docs offer anywhere, anytime access to “drop boxes” for submitting assignments, collaborative storage space for smallgroup work, and archives of students’ work to be accessed by students and teachers alike.

Now, Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as EDU2.0 (, Haiku (, Edmodo (, and Schoology ( offer online systems to distribute differentiated assignments, provide feedback to students, link to standards-based rubrics and assessments, and develop portfolios of student work.

As more schools adopt 1:1 computing programs and more families acquire high-speed Internet access, teachers need workflow strategies like these to reap the organizational and learning benefits of e-learning, such as making last-minute changes to instructions, assignments, and resources that paper-based systems couldn’t handle.

Establish Team Culture

Nearly every facet of teaching and learning on a team is affected by new technologies, from how netbooks, tablets, and even cell phones are used in school to how students engage experts around the world via e-mail or Skype ( The norms and routines teachers have nurtured across generations don’t necessarily work with today’s connected students.

Effective teams build a sense of community by asking students to introduce themselves through digital storytelling. They use Socrative ( or other online polling tools to have frank and often challenging conversations about team expectations. They model collaborative brainstorming with ( and backchanneling with TodaysMeet (

The key components of Common Sense Media’s ( terrific digital citizenship curriculum—including Internet Safety, Relationships and Communication, Cyberbullying, Self-Image and Identity, Digital Footprint and Reputation—are an essential 21st century approach to Strengthening Teams Through Technology By Penny A. Bishop & John M. Downes in every issue HOT SPOT AMLE Magazine · JANUARY 2014 45 creating a healthy team for young adolescents. What’s more, the foundation of a strong team culture is more important than ever as teams journey along the turbulent path toward hi-tech schooling.

Involve Families

Effective teams know that the teacher-student-family triangle yields powerful student learning. Joyce Epstein’s six types of family involvement—parenting, communicating, learning at home, decision making, volunteering, and collaborating with the community— offer as good a guide in the 21st century as when she first suggested them two decades ago.

Tech-savvy teams introduce families to Common Sense Media’s family media agreements and conversation guides to help parent and child negotiate the online hobbies and social lives of young adolescents. They point families to team websites, class blogs, e-portfolios, and teachers’ preferred e-mailing, texting, and Skyping routines to build twoway communications between home and school.

They host family nights at which students guide their families through the team’s online parenting resources, science games, and math sites like Khan Academy ( or MathXL ( Students model how to use Google Docs for Writer’s Workshop and how to find the latest assignments, teacher feedback, and assessment results in the team’s LMS.

These teams create parent councils to streamline parent input into technology policies and they designate parents as on-call support to families struggling with Facebook or gaming at home.

Manage Technology

Teams that embrace technology quickly realize that students can play key roles in fixing software glitches, restoring wireless connections, and cleaning up the tangled mess of a laptop cart—the nuts and bolts of managing classroom technology.

Young adolescents’ need for competence and leadership can be met by establishing student tech teams with rotating membership, trained by district technology staff to be front-line troubleshooters. [See the November AMLE Magazine Hot Spot.]

Teams also identify mentors among marginalized students who display tech talents to help fumbling “high achievers,” bolstering the mentor’s self-esteem and status along the way.

Google Forms ( are an easy way to collect trouble reports from students and teachers, and they can be routinely reviewed through the automatically generated charts to monitor the ebb and flow of tech issues. Effective teams share these data with the student tech team and district technology staff. One team teacher acts as a liaison with technology support to streamline the sometimes long-running conversations about persistent problems.

Learn about Tools

Finally, effective teams constantly add new technologies to their toolkit. Savvy teachers turn to a student tech mentor who tries out several promising web apps at home, suggests the one kids might prefer, and provides a lunchtime tutorial that can launch the teacher on a new tool much more efficiently than she could have done alone.

Similarly, teachers can document their experience with apps in a shared Google Spreadsheet, noting each app’s strengths and weaknesses, suggesting tips and tricks, and linking to examples of student work. Shared with all teammates, these results can save valuable teacher time in the long run.

Teams also may take turns reporting on an app at a designated common planning time meeting every two weeks. The result over time: a thoughtful analysis of apps, by these teachers, for these teachers, in their real classroom settings, all in a package readily shareable with their colleagues near and far.

Create Community

Today’s teams confront increasing pressure on common planning time. But the 21st century holds real and exciting promise: the efficiencies of anytime, anywhere connectivity and bold new opportunities to create strong and effective teams

Penny Bishop is professor of middle grades education and director of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont, Burlington.

John Downes is associate director of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont, Burlington.

This article was published in AMLE Magazine, January 2014.